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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Scandal At Chicago State?

At the end of May, a scandal broke at Illinois' top public school, the University of Illinois (and my alma mater). The Chicago Tribune reported that powerful politicians within the state including the Speaker of the House in Illinois, Michael Madigan, used their influence to call in favors with members of the board of trustees of the University to help get family and friends into the school that wouldn't otherwise have been accepted. In its aftermath, Governor Pat Quinn quickly created a blue ribbon panel to investigate the situation.

A panel investigating the role that clout played in University of Illinois admissions recommended in its final report released on Thursday that all trustees voluntarily submit their resignations and let Gov. Pat Quinn decide which ones to accept.

In a scathing 45-page report, the Illinois Admissions Review Commission found unqualified students were admitted because of political connections, and recommends that any new trustees conduct a review of the university's president, the chancellor of the Champaign campus and other administrators.

This was all perfectly appropriate and expected. The University of Illinois is an institution in the state and the politicians involved were some of the most powerful in the state. Now, another scandal is growing at another state institution that is receiving far less attention and Governor Quinn is paying far less attention to it.

Chicago State University is a far smaller and more marginal state school (than the University of Illinois that is) on Chicago's South Side. The contract of Interim President Frank G. Pogue’s ended on June 30. At that point, Governor Quinn approved $75000 for a "national search". That national search ended with Wayne Watson. On the one hand, Watson was a curious choice. First, he was running the City Colleges of Chicago at the time meaning the chancellors didn't look very far in their "national search". More than that, Watson is tied to several pieces of corruption and waste. Most recently, Kennedy King college, part of the CCC network, had a $100 million cost overrun in construction of a campus in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. Furthermore, no one involved in the construction could explain the overrun AND crucial documents went missing.

Construction of the new Kennedy-King College campus is more than $110 million over its original budget, and officials can't explain why or locate key documents that could shed light on the spiraling costs.

Project documents obtained by the Daily News also provide little explanation for the overruns on the taxpayer-financed project.

Here's more media coverage of the situation.

The e-mail exchanges between the City Colleges of Chicago and the Public Building Commission — sometimes testy and filled with frustration — detail some of the bottlenecks sent costs spiraling.

The new campus began as a $93 million project. To date, costs exceed $250 million.

The 500 e-mails obtained by the Daily News through the Freedom of Information Act reveal:

In July 2008, the City Colleges noted that special gas line connections for equipment in a massive teaching kitchen had been installed backwards. That took more than six months to fix.

Meanwhile, back in 2002-2006, Watson authorized the PBS station run by the City Colleges, local WYCC, to produce private videos for local politicians like Jesse Jackson Jr.

Under orders from then-Chancellor Wayne Watson, the PBS television station at City Colleges of Chicago used its budget to produce free videos of powerful politicians and friends of the chancellor, an internal college e-mail shows.

The political programs, dating between 2002 and 2006, spawned a state ethics investigation and figure into a new federal lawsuit that alleges the publicly funded WYCC television station violated the terms of its government grant funding and broke federal tax rules for charities.When the station's former manager complained about the political projects, she was fired, according to the lawsuit.

The political programs showcased golf events, a fundraiser and a "State Senate California Trip" in connection with then-State Senate President Emil Jones. Then-Ald. Todd Stroger and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, among others, also were featured in programs.

So, while these scandals all made Watson a curious candidate, there was one thing that made him a natural candidate to take over at CSU. That is that Watson is an ally of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. While it's natural, if they were just going to ask Daley for a lackey of his, the $75,000 the school, using tax payer money, spent for the "national search" seemed wasted.

At the beginning of the month, Watson was introduced to students and staff though he was introduced as President Elect. This is a curious monikor since after all he was never actually elected. It also left the school without a President for the start of the school year. Sources in the school expect Watson to officially be announced President on October 1st. Though nothing beyond "rumors" explain why Watson is still only President Elect. At least one professor thinks that given that Watson is still not technically President he is performing certain functions illegally.

Was the continuous back and forth about the parade an indicator that the "PE" was actually serving in an official capacity? Was the installation of a telecommunication system at the official residence an indication of acting in an official capacity? Were the numerous meetings and requests for information from the "PE" as far back as May an indicator of acting in an official capacity? Who was responsible for giving the movers instructions about what furniture was to go where in the official residence? Was it the "PE"'s official cheerleader and chief sycophant, someone rumored to now be in charge of the marketing efforts for the university. The University Legal Counsel's office has not responded to my Freedom of Information Act requests in the legally mandated time period. What is the "PE" and his masters on the BOT hiding? Will we find out that what we are seeing is simply a continuation of the malfeasance and incompetence of the BOT manifested in the flawed hiring process of the "PE"?

Meanwhile, there are reports that the board of trustees is getting involved in day to day functions of the school in violation of the board policies. There are reports that Board Chairman Leon Finney, Jr. pressured the provost Dr. Sandra Westbrooks to fire a number of administrators. These administrators included VP of Student Affairs, Executive Director of University Relations and Interim VP of the Office of Institutional Advancement. All of these folks were fired without cause.Most of those positions continue to remain unfilled. At the same time, all of the fired administrators continue to receive 90 days worth of benefits because they were fired without cause. Since CSU is a state school, these folks are receiving this severance with state tax payer money.

All of this happens with little media scrutiny and even less scrutiny by the Governor Pat Quinn. All the while, Quinn is pleading for a 50% income tax hike because of a "budget shortfall".


Anonymous said...

Well see, the thing is, nobody cares about CSU. It's a crappy school in a crappy part of town. Who even goes there?

mike volpe said...

Wow!! That's entirely beside the point. Everyone should care about corruption. Corruption thrives because people don't care. Tax payer dollars are being used to fund that school. Do you not care about that? All of this corruption is being financed by tax payer dollars. Do you care about that?

Anonymous said...

Well, I care about CSU... CSU's administration is crappy and I truly hate it, but lets not forget that there are good students and good teachers there. Lets also not forget that this school is very important to black community of Chicago. I am getting my degree there (unless we lose the certification lol). I've had some bad professors, but also had EXCELLENT AND SUPERB teachers who instilled their passion and love of learning in their students (me being one of them).

Don't ever assume that you have to get a name brand degree in order to get quality education or to accomplish anything in life. Chicago State allowed me, unlike UIC, to get my degree while working and to get good recommendations since classes are small and professors get to know their students. It also developed my reasoning skills (through classes in Math and Philosophy), and I don't doubt for a second that I will be a solid candidate for any grad school I decide on.

Corruption at CSU is a deadly virus. I don't know exactly when it started, but I sure hope that Watson will be chased out along with all the corrupt people who run the school.

It's an unfortunate fact that people who run the game don't care about the students and about the quality of education. But this means nothing in the overall picture nor does this concern our professors. They teach the very same way they do at Northwestern, DePaul, or at U of C.